e-books and e-readers HOWTO

As an author and typesetter of e-books, I wanted to capture notes and instructions on getting e-books into various e-readers. I also want to capture some notes about what the experience reading is like. It can be a nightmare.

Following are all the e-readers I have tried and my notes on getting a .epub file into them and reading it. I have actually done the steps here to verify them. If you have an e-reading device or website not listed, please email me and I'll look at adding it.


Kindles support .epub files, but they must go through Amazon's infrastructure in order to be viewed on a Kindle.

Getting Content Onto the Device

These instructions are summarized from Kindlepreneur's article on this subject. Kindles allow you to email .epub files to a special email address and this will—eventually—get the file onto your Kindle. You also need to approve your own email to be able to send to this address.

  1. On amazon.com, go to Account & Lists, then Content Library (formally called Manage Content & Devices). This is buried way below the fold in a giant wall of links.

  2. Click Preferences.

  3. Scroll way down to a section (that has no text in it) named “Personal Document Settings”. This is actually a link you must click. Click it, and it should reveal some text. And by some, I mean a lot

  4. There should be a new section labeled “Send-to-Kindle Email Settings”. You should see your Kindle there, along with a special email address @kindle.com. Save that for later.

  5. Next, there is a section labeled “Personal Document Archiving”. Make sure that is enabled, as this will store your .epub with Amazon, and make syncing it to other devices much easier. And, to be honest, I am not positive any of this works if you don't have this set.

  6. Below that should be a section labeled “Approved Personal Document E-mail List”, and a link labeled “Add a new approved e-mail address”. Click that link.

  7. A modal popup will appear where you can enter an email. Enter the email address you plan to use to send the document from, then click “Add Address”.

  8. Now, you can email the .epub to your Kindle. From the email address you just configured, send the document as an attachment to the special @kindle.com email address above. To be safe, make a subject and add some text in the body.

  9. Assuming your Kindle is connected to the Internet, the document will eventually show up. For me, sometimes it can take 30 or more minutes, but it does seem to eventually get there. The bigger the document, the longer it will take. The PDF of one of my books took over an hour to show up. Amazon.com follows the Alan Dye school of UX design which is that you are given no information about anything that's happening. I mean, what can you expect from one of the world's richest, most powerful companies, right?

The Reading Experience

Kindle generally has a good reading experience. I suggest you turn off full justification, because the hyphentation and typesetting is garbage, but once you have that off, it's not bad.

The Kindle does a good job with basic typographical features like bold, italic, fonts, and sidebars. It doesn't do so great with images or source code, mostly because it's very narrow.

Rakuten Kobo

Kobos support .epub files and you can copy them directly onto it! However, you must rename the file to have a .kepub.epub file extension. If you don't, it'll use some default garbage renderer.

Getting Content Onto the Device

  1. Connect your Kobo to your computer via a USB cable.

  2. Rename the file to have a .kepub.epub extension. For example, if your file is solid-is-not-solid.epub, change it to solid-is-not-solid.kepub.epub.

  3. Copy the .kepub.epub directly onto the drive that is mounted. Not sure what it will look like on your OS, but hopefully it will be obvious.

  4. Unmount or eject the drive. How you do this depends on your OS.

  5. Unmounting will trigger the Kobo to process the .epub and add it to the device.

The Reading Experience

The Kobo reading experience for technical books is good, as long as you rename the file as directed above. If you just put a .epub onto it, it will look terrible.

If you do use the proper extension, the reading experience is on-par with the Kindle.

Apple iBooks

Apple's iBooks is pretty easy to use and works well.

Getting Content Onto the Device

  1. Open the file with iBooks on a Mac, or send the file to iBooks on an iOS device. This will add it to your library and sync it everywhere via iCloud.

The Reading Experience

The reading experience is great, since it's using a modern web browser. Everything seems to work well, formatting looks good. It's obviously not typeset as well as a real book, but it's the best you are going to get on a non-eInk screen.

Google Play Books

I rarely use the Google Play ecosystem, however it seems to read .epub files well and seems to work well.

Getting Content Onto the Device

These are for using the website at https://play.google.com/books.

  1. Navigate to https://play.google.com/books in your web browser. I have tested Safari and Chrome.

  2. Click on “Upload Files”, then follow the instructions to upload the file

The Reading Experience

The reading experience is great, since it's inside a web browser. Everything seems to work well, formatting looks good. It's obviously not typeset as well as a real book, but it's pretty good.


Calibre is an old-school e-book management system and reader. It has the feel of a 1990's Java program, probably because it is. But it is fully featured.

Getting Content Onto the Device

  1. Start the app

  2. Click on “Add books” and follow the instructions

The Reading Experience

The reading experience is pretty good—it appears to use some sort of web browser. The typography is not better than a web browser, but all the borders, fonts, and other typographical features seemed to work pretty well.